Students take on Gilman scholarship, the world

Three USF students who were awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship this spring have the opportunity to study abroad at a university of their choice and see the world from a different perspective.

Vadricka Etienne, a senior majoring in communications with a concentration in public and cultural studies, Hannah Feig, a former Oracle staff member and a junior majoring in general engineering and Sam Van Ginhoven, a senior majoring in international studies, were among the nearly 1,000 scholarship recipients for fall 2010, said Penny Carlton, a national scholarship adviser in the Honors college.

According to its website, the scholarship program is congressionally funded, sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and is administered by the Institute of International Education.

To receive the scholarship, students must be undergraduate U.S. citizens and currently receive a federal Pell grant. The program awards scholarships that average $4,000 and can be as much as $5,000.

“A lot of people don’t know that they can get the funding they need to study abroad,” Carlton said. “But they should always apply anyways. The scholarships are looking for students who are unassuming, yet moving toward a goal. They want students who have vision for their lives.”

Etienne is a Haitian-American who hopes to maintain her cultural heritage as she studies the effects of immigration from the Caribbean to the U.S. on second-generation immigrants at Broome Community College in the Dominican Republic.

“As a kid, it was easy to maintain my culture. I was constantly surrounded by it – everything from the food to the language,” Etienne said. “But now that I’m in college, it’s difficult because I’m away from my family.”

She said that along with the scholarship, each recipient is required to complete a follow-up project. Hers, which involves working with students in the states and overseas, is meant to bring more awareness to minority populations studying abroad and help students know what to expect when they travel.

“I also plan on maintaining a blog while there and working with minority students to let them know what scholarships are available for them,” Etienne said.

She plans to leave Aug. 16 and will live with a family, not in a dormitory during her study abroad trip.

“I think it will be a great experience,” Etienne said. “I want to know what it’s like to live there, outside of the developed world, so that I can develop as an individual.”

Feig came to college “not knowing” what she wanted to do, but sure that she wanted to eventually conduct research that would “directly impact people in some way.”

“I don’t want my research to be put in some random book somewhere,” she said.

Feig said that she is interested in seeing how people in developing countries view the U.S. and how that, in turn, affects their own lifestyles and sustainable development.

As her follow-up project, Feig plans to keep a blog of her experiences studying abroad and write opinion and commentary columns for The Oracle.

“When I applied for the scholarship, there was a lot of guidance from the advisers, but not a lot from other students,” she said. “I want to offer that guidance.”

Feig will leave for her study abroad program in January because the one she applied for, a trip to Africa in the fall, was cancelled. Her destination has yet to be determined.

“I will have to re-apply for the Gilman scholarship – and I hope that I get it – but the program that I choose to go to will be similar to my original program,” she said.

Van Ginhoven fostered his passion for culture – specifically Japanese culture – during his high school career when he began learning Japanese and writing to pen pals in Japan.

He said that his goals while attending the Kansai Gaidai University in Japan are to finish his major, become fluent in Japanese and “immerse” himself in Japanese culture.

“I’ve been to Japan a few times before,” he said. “But never for this long.”

Van Ginhoven said that he wants to help students become aware of the opportunities that are available to them through the national scholarship office – something he plans to work on for his follow-up project.

“There were so many advisers who helped me at USF with the Gilman scholarship. I want to be able to help them,” he said.

He plans to leave Aug. 25, with classes starting the first week of September, and stay in a residence hall off campus.

“My family used to be nervous,” Van Ginhoven said. “But they’re excited that I’m getting to do what I’ve been working so hard for.”

Carlton said that “being innovative, coming up with an idea and showing leadership” are the things that will get students scholarships.

“Showing the willingness to go out into the world and make your own connections will allow you to move forward with your life and give back to your community, country and world,” she said.